Greek, Austrian leaders to visit Lesbos over refugee crisis

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 05, 2015 9:25 AM

ATHENS (Reuters) - Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann will become the first European Union leader on Tuesday to visit the Greek island of Lesbos to see the impact of Europe's migrant crisis on one of the refugees' preferred entry points into the EU.

Lesbos, just 4.4 km (2.8 miles) off the Turkish coast, is struggling to cope with tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war, persecution and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and seeking a better life in Europe.

Austria and Germany have committed to backing Greek efforts to secure more EU funds to cope with the influx and to boost staff on the ground. Many of the almost 400,000 migrants who have arrived in Greece this year have later passed through Austria on their way to Germany.

Faymann and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will visit registration and first-reception facilities on the island and discuss further cooperation between the two countries on managing migration flows, Tsipras's office said.

The two men held a three-way telephone conference on Saturday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on managing the refugee flow.

Greece, which has been struggling through its deepest economic crisis in generations, lacks the infrastructure to deal with the huge number of arrivals in Lesbos and other eastern Aegean islands such as Kos and Chios.

The situation on Lesbos reached breaking-point over the summer, when hundreds of refugees and migrants had to sleep in the open with little food or water, in conditions described by Greek officials and aid agencies as "wretched".

Faymann, a Social Democrat, has advocated solidarity with Greece in its debt talks with creditors and in admitting more migrants, while his conservative coalition partners have taken a tough line on both issues.

The two parties are vying for votes in Austrian municipal elections next Sunday.

(Reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens and Shadia Nasralla in Vienna; Editing by Paul Taylor and Gareth Jones)